Sunday, December 2nd 2018 – Helsinki, Day 4
Sunday we were back under cloudy skies, with the threat of snow, so we decided we’d do the Panorama Bus Tour (again included on the Helsinki Card) starting at 11:00, then grab some lunch at the Christmas Market because we’d not managed to have a Finnish sausage yet, and a trip to Helsinki is not complete without a grilli makkara!
First however we strolled along Esplanadi enjoying the lights, with a quick side trip to see what time the Fazer Cafe and Shop would be open till. We had shopping for other people to do but no intention of dragging it along with us all day. After that we joined (or rather helped start) the queue for the bus tour, ending up 3rd and 4th in line, with the very helpful tour guide Marcelo coralling and controlling the elements that didn’t realise they needed to queue in an orderly manner. So when the bus arrived we got the front seats upstairs and thus the best view! In the winter months the hop on, hop off bus doesn’t operate, and you have to stay with the Panorama bus, with a stop at either the temple of the rock or the Sibelius monument. It being a Sunday, we would be stopping at the latter as the former would be in use for services. It was nice to just sit and be driven round, and the commentary on this bus is different to the one on the Hop On, Hop Off so we got other snippets of information.
On arrival at the Sibelius Monument, I was in two minds as to whether to get off the bus or not. We had. after all, seen it before and in much warmer weather. In the end I nipped out for a few minutes because I wanted to stand inside it and take some photos. I had to wait for a while as the French guy who was next to us on the bus (and who seemed to be an “all the gear and no idea” merchant) was doing much the same in a somewhat inefficient manner.
The details on the pipes were much clearer in the winter light than they had been in the summer, and it was also interesting to note that the lake on the other side of the road was starting to freeze over. You could see the attraction of the olde worlde cafe over the road in these conditions.
By the time we made it back to the centre of Helsinki we’d pretty much covered most of the main sights, although with the square in front of the cathedral being full of Christmas market we couldn’t stop there so they bounced us all out at the summer market square instead.
From there we decided it was coffee time, and we really needed to try out the Mumin Cafe, a somewhat odd establishment which celebrates the Moomins and their friends, and is – for reasons I can’t begin to grasp – vastly popular with selfie taking Japanese tourists. I think it’s the cute factor that also explains Hello Kitty. Actually, I take that back; Hello Kitty is NOT cute to me, rather it seems somewhat threatening, as if these cartoonish cats are up to something.
Be that as it may, we had a very pleasant hot chocolate, with Moomin biscuits perched on them, and tried not to be unnerved by the hattifattener lights lining the window sill!
From there we decided we’d grab a quick bite to eat at the Christmas Market, and after some strolling around settled on Feri’s Sausages, and their moose makkara, because they looked and smelled really good. It wasn’t that quick in the end, but we had a matching “makkara beer” with it and felt we’d ticked another essentially Finnish item off the list for the weekend.
It was time to go and so some more cultural stuff. It was time to visit The National Museum of Finland for an overview of the history of the region from pre-historic times onwards. On arrival I was startled to notice what looked like bullet holes in the massive external door, and even more startled to find that that was what they were. The building was opened in 1916 and was thus a victim of the 1918 Finnish Civil War, which broke out as the Finns fought each other for and against independence from Russia.
Inside the museum (again included on the Helsinki Card) there was an interesting and slightly insane sculpture of the old heraldic Finnish lion, made entirely out of old coins, the markka. The sculptor was also lurking around, signing cards for people and explaining the piece to anyone prepared to stand still long enough.
Inside we ranged through centuries of Finnish history, and as with many other Finnish museums there were lots of objects you could touch, and things for children to play with/wear. It’s so much more interactive than most British museums, that I do know.
In our usual manner we somehow ended up going round in the wrong order, but that’s just us. There was an interesting exhibit on plastic and the amount of it now in the oceans, that included a dress made for a Finnish politician out of discarded plastic, showing that there is use that can be made of the stuff rather than just chucking it away.
There was also a fabulous embroidery display of works by Professor Heikki Orvola (another Finn to have won the Kaj Franck Design Prize). The works really are amazing, looking far more like paintings than something made out of coloured threads, the intricate details so clearly shown.
The rest of the museum kept us fascinated too, with so much to see, including some interesting church furniture, and some spectacular 19th and 20th century Russian artefacts, including a throne.
By the way, the building is pretty fabulous too, especially the painted central ceiling, which you get quite a view of from the upper levels.
And by now it was dark and late and so we called it quits and caught a tram back to the hotel, admiring the new library, Oodi, which has sprung up in wave like form opposite the Parliament building and which, unfortunately, would not open until 6th December, Finnish Independence Day, by which time we would have been home for three days. The outside of the museum was also nicely illuminated, which gave us something else to look at while we waited for the tram.
We needed time to get ready for dinner at Gaijin, which is both very good and very close to the hotel, but more importantly is actually open on a Sunday evening, so it was back to our room to thaw out, clean up and change clothes.